If one is to sup at the table of death metal, 2013 placates that hunger with a veritable feast.
Before I begin, allow me a moment to discourse about my musical tastes; why my opinion is the way it is. I am in my 30’s now, and yes I was into death metal back in the early 90’s. Coming from a background of AOR, hard rock, glam and heavy metal (thanks to my 2 older sisters and a slew of cousins that were all into different bands and music) I personally sought out more musical extremes. I kept those roots and branched out into hip hop, hard core rap, industrial, all of the “post” genres and of course, death metal. I love how technology allows one to instantly discover new bands and styles of music. “In my day” (and please excuse me for sounding old before my time) you had to take chances on buying a new cassette, or cd. Extreme bands did not have national exposure and often it was through friends, local shows and thank you notes in album liners that I discovered new bands. It was through this method that I discovered many of my favorite bands; this is a tradition I carry on. LastFM, You Tube and other various online resources are a great way to discover new bands and music. I encourage you my readers, to support these bands that you find. Attend concerts, post reviews and share the music to your friends. That is enough of that, on to my top five for 2013.
5. August Burns Red – Rescue and Restore
I wrote about this one a few months ago and it still stands strong in 2013. The band has launched heads and shoulders above their metalcore bretherens and blossomed into something wholly superior. The band has never been afraid of experimentation in the past; previous efforts were met with minimal rewards though. Rescue and Restore solidified the bands creativity and capacity into an astounding musical experience. Since its release the track that keeps drawing me back is Creative Capacity:
A little under five glorious minutes of everything a fan of extreme (and extremely creative) music can ask for. The band is spot on, including a stellar drum performance and they finally get the added instrumentation right. The song is the ‘kitchen sink’ of the album, if that sink was made of metal and totally kicked ass.
4. Ghost – Infestissumam/If You Have Ghosts
Unabashed fan alert! I have been a staunch support of Ghost since discovery of their existence back in 2010. Their debut LP Opus Eponymous was a sublime mix of occult rock and progressive doom/stoner jam metal. The masses were left wondering what they would be able to do to keep the momentum rolling. The answer appeared early in 2013 with the uniquely refreshing Infestissumam. Covering multiple genres including doom, prog, sleaze and glam Papa and the Ghouls delivered one of the most unique listening experience of not only ’13 but of the past decade. Subversive in its content, yet overtly pronounced in its musicianship the album is unlike anything you have ever heard before. During my initial listen to the album and the hundreds of subsequent ones the track(s) that really stood out to me is the seven minute beach-pop dirge to the lady of the night Ghuleh (Zombie Queen). Like the Beach Boys and Satan took a road trip together; the song has all of the dark swagger and impeccable musical timing we have come to know and love from Ghost.
The band rounded out the year 2013 with a killer 5 track EP including two new covers produced by Dave Grohl. If I did not mention it in my earlier reviews this year the band is a must-see act live (or dead?).
3. Gorguts – Colored Sands
Canadian technical death metal masterminds Gorguts are back with their strongest outing since 1998s Obscura. Unique rhythmic time signatures and guitar work with a near post/ambient rock quality elevate Colored Sands ahead of (most of) the death metal releases in 2013. This year there were three stand-out albums and each brings its own great qualities to the table. Where Gorguts succeed is in their ability to craft melodies from a dark and dissonant place, while still retaining the thread of brutality that separates this from other bands in the genre. While I really enjoyed the near operatic track The Battle of Chamdo it would be unfair to try and encapsulate this release with that song. There are no bad songs on this release, if I had to start somewhere (other than track one) I would pick An Ocean of Wisdom.
Beautiful interwoven threads of bleak and heavy technicality wind their way through the track. The drumming here is some of the best on the entire album (which is saying quite a bit). The song combines the elegance of technical metal with the ambient drone of some of the more experimental black and post metal genres. Colored Sands as a whole is hard to resist and easily stands in the upper echelon of not only 2013.
2. Carcass – Surgical Steel
When the musical gods conspired on how to appeal to the worlds in two thousand and thirteen they must have come together and said “let there be new Carcass”. So it came to pass, and yes my friends it was good. Stepping out of the past and not missing a beat the band delivers their best performance since the seminal Heartwork release. Running the gambit on the bands history Surgical Steel touches stylistically upon their grind and death metal roots, embraces their tech/death past and makes sweet, sweet love to their death&roll tendencies. After the hiatus the band has not missed a step and has released one of the most technical yet effortless sounding albums of their career. Great hooks are sometimes hard to find in the genre and my favorite track on this album has them in spades.
Amazing performance and killer songwriting; add to that some of the best and most natural sounding drum-work in the past 10 years and you have reached nirvana. Jeff Walkers vocals are spot on for the music and this song stands as my absolute favorite individual metal performance of 2013. Surgical Steel is razor sharp and damned near the best thing musically this year….
1. Ulcerate – Vermis
The list of adjectives that one can use to describe this album fall towards the dark and depressing end of the spectrum; dark, oppressive and over-bearing are three that come to mind. I said as much during my review upon release, this album crushes listeners with the weight of a thousand stone. Dark is almost too lite of a term to use here. If a lot of death metal is dark then Vermis is pitch black. Sonically this is the most impressive album you will hear all year; the guitar melodies form layer upon layer of chaos to somehow form a consistent thread. The bass lurks in the shadows like a disfigured monster of a being; it is subtle but you can feel it upon you. Jamie Saint Merat should be put on trial as he absolute murdered the drums on this album. My evidence:
There have been a lot of stand-out metal performances this year. Ulcerate would have been towards the top of the list no matter what, but the drumming elevates this album above and beyond. Taking nothing away from other band member, as the cohesive whole is necessary to make Vermis everything that it is. The above track could have been any from the album, and the entire 54 minutes we have been given deserves your listening respect.